Trust a film from the nineteen-eighties to hit the ground running. Or in the case of The Hidden, hit the ground tyres screeching. The opening is shocking. We see a guy, captured on grainy security footage, robbing a bank. But it's the way he does it. No telling people to get down on the ground, no clear planning. He just pulls out a shotgun and opens fire, gunning down members of the public and security guards. Before running out of the bank with the cash, he stops to smile at the security camera. He then jumps into a sports car for a high-speed chase through the streets of LA.
It's an over-the-top opening scene, for sure, with a vein of humour running through it. When the bank robber runs down a guy in a wheelchair with uncontained glee, it's final confirmation that something is a bit off. Who is this guy? Where does he come from? And why is he doing this? When the cops eventually catch him and put him in the hospital in the first ten minutes, and take pleasure in knowing that he probably won't survive the night because of his injuries (horrendous burns to his face and body), a doctor complains to the detectives that the guy they've caught has as much right to live as anyone.
Whereby one detective replies with this zinger: "He killed twelve people, wounded twenty-three more, stole six cars, most of them Ferraris. Robbed eight banks, six supermarkets, four jewelery stores and a candy shop. Six of the ones he killed he carved up with a butcher knife. Two of them were kids. He did all that in two weeks. If anyone deserves to go that way, it sure in the hell was him."
Fast cars, hot babes, and gratuitous violence
It's a line that signals we're in for a typical eighties movie full of unabashed violence and excess. The bank robber, it turns out, has fallen victim to an alien parasite that likes to swap bodies. What's amusing is that the alien seems to exist purely to enjoy everything Earth has to offer, no matter the consequences. Its main pleasures are money, drink, fast sports cars, heavy metal music, gratuitous violence and hot babes. Given that they call the film The Hidden, the alien does very little to keep itself out of sight, other than taking human form. It even takes the form of a dog at one point. Think John Carpenter's The Thing, but way easier to spot. You just follow the trail of destruction.
And Kyle MacLachlan, playing the film's FBI agent, has been doing precisely that. Like the alien itself, his background is a little sketchy, much to the displeasure of the LA cop he's teamed up with, played by a commendably earnest Michael Nouri. In a great example of lean story telling, MacLachlan's agent just shows up with hardly any explanation. And then when his background is brought to light later in the film, it's just a few throwaway lines of dialogue between him and the alien bad guy. It's probably because of budget restrictions that we don't get some elongated flashback full of special FX, but it means it allows your imagination to fill in the blanks. And often, that's more powerful.
Instead, the movie can focus on the here and now, and all of that violent excess that I mentioned earlier. In some ways the film could be seen as a satire on the "greed is good" culture of the eighties, but taken to extreme levels, with the alien invader taking what he wants, with little or no empathy for anyone he hurts or kills along the way. But even though The Hidden revels in its carnage, it has a surprisingly touching and life affirming ending.
Like a lot of great films from the eighties, the movie ticks a lot of boxes. It's by turns a comedy, a thriller, a horror, a sci-fi, and a buddy cop film. All blended together into a beautiful whole.